Bad Guys and Other Scary Things: A Christian Perspective on Stranger Danger

Standard

criminal

At lunch the other day, I walked in on my kids talking about their views on the ever-present topic of the danger of “bad guys” and the “stranger danger” rules that my daughter had learned in school. “If a bad guy comes, I will rip off his mask,” Zane said with a snarl.

“Zane….bad guys don’t always wear masks,” Mia retorted with an eye roll….”If I see a bad guy, I will punch and kick and hit him. And if a bad guy grabs me, I will yell FIRE so that everyone will look”. Since she had been to school already, she knew a few practical rules that her teacher had taught her about “stranger danger”…and though these rules can be helpful in a tight spot, they don’t always encapsulate the entire story.

I challenged them with a soft bit of truth in the form of thought-provoking questions…”Did you know a bad guy can look just like me? There can be people who look nice but are really trying to hurt you. Do you think you would be able to tell if someone was a bad guy?”

My kids returned my lesson with blank stares. So I continued, “I will pretend to be a bad guy and you show me what you would do if I was trying to get you to come with me,” I started with my 6 year-old daughter with the intention of her being an example to my 4 year-old son. I began in a calm, comforting voice, “Well, hi little girl. I’ve been passing out candy to all the kids at the park but I seem to have run out. Would you mind coming over to my car with me so I can get you some too?….”

And before I could continue, she shouted in her meanest, toughest voice, “No. I won’t go with you!!” She usually errs on the side of complete mistrust of anyone she doesn’t know. She has always been intimidated by new people and cautious of new situations. But her leery outlook often inhibits her socialization. So, I turned to my son, who had been listening to everything we said, “Oh, you are such a cute little boy. I have some ice cream. Would you like some ice cream?”

He nodded, “My mom lets me have ice cream.”

I continued, “Well, I left it over there. Would you like to come with me?” And with a naive grin he nodded sweetly and my little game became a shocking truth. My sons friendly, loving spirit is a detriment to his safety. It’s a characteristic I don’t necessarily long for him to overcome entirely, but I do want him to be safe. So, how do I teach my kids to be kind without being naive? How do I teach my kids to enjoy meeting new people and to allow new people into their lives without terrifying them into mistrusting everyone? How can my kids know what to do if they get separated from me without them being overly unnerved by being lost?

Part of the answer to these questions is that we are always to trust God. We can’t control every situation that our children encounter. I send my daughter to school and pray that she is safe. I pray that the regulations that the school has set up will protect her. I pray that she and her teachers will make wise choices and I pray that those who I am trusting for her care will not take advantage of her. And I occasionally leave my son with babysitters. I pray those who watch over him will know his impulsivity and keep him from hurting himself or wandering off when he makes rash, dangerous choices. My own care is faulty. My own instincts are imperfect. I lose sight of him at the park, I become wrapped up in a book while I’m watching him play in the front yard. And just this last week, I had to quickly leave my children with a nurse I had never met in order to get an unexpected x-ray. As parents we have to leave a lot to God’s perfect sovereignty and that often is the most terrifying part of this equation.

But the other side of these questions is our own responsibility and that is where much of the confusion lies. In our attempt to be conscientious, the scale becomes weighted in the direction of worry and fears. We try to remove all instances of danger by keeping them close and creating unnecessary isolation. Or we create a mantra of “God is in control” and we lose sight of the job we’ve been given. It is a huge responsibility to guard a child’s safety but it doesn’t have to be frightening to you or the child. It’s not always as simplistic or straightforward as we would like to make it but it also doesn’t have to be so complicated either. I am certainly not an expert on child safety…but over the last week I have been observing, gathering information, and asking questions, so that I could break the confusion in my mind over the dichotomy between avoiding strangers and building relationships. Here’s what I came up with…

When discussing the concept of “stranger danger”, don’t give kids too many rules. A small list of general rules is better than a huge list of specifics. If they know that it is generally the best idea to ask a parent first before taking anything from someone else…if they generally know it’s not safe to go into someone else’s house without permission…if they generally know it is only ok to talk to a stranger when a parent is close by…then you don’t have to fill in the blanks with every possible scenario that may arise. As in so many other areas of life, thinking skills are much more important than rote memorization of rules.

Talk about people that they can trust. Kids shouldn’t fear all strangers…on occasion, that can be as dangerous as thinking everyone is a friend. Firemen, policemen, sales clerks, and neighbors can be a huge help to a kid in trouble, but many kids feel paralyzed with fear because of too much emphasis on “stranger danger”.  While this particular point could become bogged down with a long list of “what-ifs”…the truth is, a stranger in public is often safer than someone they know in private.

Give them opportunity for practice. Kids don’t always have the best sense in dangerous situations but if they are given a chance to practice making choices for themselves they will know what to do when a crisis actually arises. If you shelter and guard your child at all times they will not know what to do when they are put in a position to choose for themselves. They can’t sense danger as well if they have never been exposed to what danger can look like. And, on the flip-side, if you guard them too closely, they will have difficulty knowing when they can actually build a relationship. It may be helpful to take cookies to a neighbor, or to strike up a conversation with someone in line at the grocery store and then have a discussion later about why that particular situation was okay and what scenarios would not be okay. “It was okay to take cookies to the neighbor because we have talked to her a few times in our yard and Mommy was with you. It would not be okay to go over to her house if I was not with you, even if she invited you. Maybe when we have time to get to know her better we can go over together.”

Don’t think you’ve covered it if you talk about it once. I showed my son how to call me or my husband in an emergency. After we had gone over it a few times, I expected him to have it…but he didn’t. Not because he wasn’t listening, but because it takes repetition and application to learn something, even for adults.

Don’t overdo it. Some parents give their children too much information to deal with. They can’t comprehend adult situations and they shouldn’t have to in order to stay safe. But you can also “under-do” it too by thinking that it is too much to even mention the possibility of someone hurting them. Then as a child approaches the age to understand, it is helpful to open the lines of communication about difficult choices and to present more drastic applications.

Be your child’s advocate. If you are uncomfortable with the way a stranger is talking to your daughter, speak up. She will learn from your assertiveness. She can learn from your instincts. Your fear about what people will think of you could be a clear avenue for your child to be taken advantage of.

Create an environment of openness. A child shouldn’t feel afraid to speak up. There shouldn’t be a broad stroke of shame covering talk about your body. There are times and places to be frank, and there are times and places to be private…your child should know the difference. Privacy should look completely different from shame. And wrong choices don’t always need to be punished. Kids don’t have the same reasoning as we do and it’s unfair to punish them for something that they were ignorant of. Sometimes a grace filled discussion is enough to replace negative thoughts or actions with positive on)es and provide afluid line for children to express their worries, opinions and concerns in the future.

And so, being cautious about strangers does not have to equal isolation and rude behavior. Galatians 5:14 says we should “love others as you love yourself” (The Message)…strangers are people too, so we are called to love them. But we don’t have to be ignorant either. Children have a special place in the kingdom and we are to protect and guide them.  We are actually instructed to follow their example of faith. And anyone who causes them harm faces the wrath of God. (Matthew 18:3-6).

Advertisements

The This, or That of Spiritual Character (Hebrews 5-6:12)

Standard

thisorthat

Appointed or Exalted? In Jewish culture, the high priest position was one of divine appointment. He was chosen according to family line and had the utmost responsibility of representing mankind before God, making a sacrafice to cover the sin of all the people. And these verses describe the similarity of the position that belonged to Jesus. He was the Great High Priest who, because of his humanity, could deal gently with man. But the text makes it clear that neither of these positions were ones of self-exaltation. These important titles were given only by appointment. No high priest was given his duty because he chose it, or because he placed himself higher than all the others…as Christ was given his calling only by the sovereign hand of God. In serving God and ministering to others, are you exalting yourself by seeking recognition and authority? Or are you humbly waiting for God’s clear appointment so that you may humbly serve him? Don’t rush forward in service just to receive a title or position, wait upon the Lord and he will give you a place of high authority, His authority and He will receive the glory that He deserves.

Meat or Milk?  I’ve met plenty of people, wearied by the endless debate over theology or trampled by the shame of simply not being taught, that have thrown their arms up in frustration over the path to deeper spiritual knowledge. These people need others to come along side them and given them encouragement and support. But this passage is talking about those who know better but refuse to listen. They have become comfortable with where they are and what they know and are unwilling to contemplate anything beyond the basics of Christianity. I understand the resistance. It is difficult to make time, it is painful to stretch your mind in directions it hasn’t been. It is time consuming in a world with little time to spare. But digging into the meat of the Word of God is life changing. We settle for far less because we are not willing to grow. We only glimpse the smallest fraction of who God is and what He does in our lives when we become lazy about becoming more spiritually mature. We are students when we should be teachers, we are stuck in the same old sin when we could be experiencing freedom, we lack discernment, and we fail to fulfill our place in the body of Christ.

Holding Fast or Falling Away? This is such a debated and confusing passage. Is it possible to know the gospel and trust in Christ and then one day decide it’s not for you and leave it all behind, forfeiting your spot in heaven? Can you really turn your back on God after a lifetime of serving Him and in the midst of grief or confusion make an irreversible decision to live without Him? Pastor John Piper sheds some light on the verses.”This passage says that there is a spiritual condition that makes repentance and salvation impossible. And it says that this condition may look in many ways like salvation, but it isn’t. And it leads to destruction. And so this text is a warning to us not to assume that we are secure when our lives have some religious experiences but no growing fruit. And the reason for showing us this serious situation is so that we will flee from it, and move to solid ground and lasting joy.” It is difficult to convince someone that they need to be saved if they are so completely convinced that they are a Christian that they are unwilling to hear the truth.

Sluggish or Imitators in Faith? It is important that when we are made aware of such downfalls in our Christian walk (as we have discussed from Hebrew 5 and 6) that we seek to make the necessary changes. Don’t let chiding from a Christian brother or sister lead you to resentment but let it spurn you on to seek better and deeper things. Don’t let laziness or pride keep you from serving God to the best of your ability. Seek to be true imitators of the faith who through patience inherit the promises of God.

 

Reflections on Suicide: For The Sake of the Body

Standard

download

 

 

Someone I cared about killed herself last week. And so the questions began to flood my mind. Could I have done something? Why didn’t I send that text a day earlier? Why didn’t I spend more time with her? Why didn’t I call? Could I have said the one thing that would have convinced her not to do it?…and in an attempt to comfort my grieving heart, I tell myself, “God is in control. If He wanted me to stop her, I would have. If He had something for me to say, He would have told me. I had no way of knowing she was going to do that. There was nothing anybody could have done. She was going to do it anyway…it wouldn’t have mattered what anyone said to her.”

That is all a lie. I know better than to think I am incapable of speaking truth to someone who is hurting. I know better than to think that my prayers are ineffective to change someone’s heart. I know better than to let someone suffer alone for the sake of my own insecurity, inadequacies and fears. I know better than to think that God would speak to me if I’m not even listening. And I know better than to allow my life to spin busily along, allowing my schedule to overtake fellowship. She was my friend and I failed her. I failed to be a godly influence in her life, as I fail so many more of my Christian brothers and sisters. But now is not the time to beat myself up…it is a time to wake up.

I’ve always known how important it is to spend time alone with God. From the time I could speak, I was taught to pray. From the time I learned how to read, I was taught to have my Bible open constantly and to carry it as a precious, sacred message from my Father. When I became a teenager I was taught to call on the Holy Spirit for guidance in making decisions in my life and to know what to do in difficult situations. But somewhere along the way, as I traveled into adulthood, all of these disciplines became a means for me to feel better about myself and to get what I wanted out of life.

I wanted to be a better person. I wanted to find joy. I wanted not to have any difficulties and I wanted relationships to be easy. I used prayer as a means to ask for freedom from pain. I used reading my Bible as a way to root out bad habits and sinful patterns, not because I was genuinely grieved by my sin but only because I was tired of dealing with the consequences. I only called on the Holy Spirit in an attempt to avoid my own embarrassment from saying or doing the wrong thing. It was all about me and my personal growth…it was never about my place in the body of Christ.

Reading the Bible is a means for syncing your thoughts with the thoughts of God. As you read the scripture and are enlightened by its truths, the way you think will begin to look more similar to the way God thinks. When you fill your heart with the truth of scripture you can begin to change what you say and how you act. The Bible tells us that “the good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45)You will be more ready to speak truth to a friend who is hurting if your heart is already filled with the love, thoughts and words of God. You cannot expect to be attuned to God’s voice or to the hurts of other people if you are only focused on yourself or if you are not reading His words at all.

Prayer gives us complete access to the throne room of the King. We can influence the path of the future by our requests to Him. We can receive wisdom and authority to carry out His will by simply asking Him to give us those things. We have free access into the presence of the all-knowing leader and so often we neglect that gift. I am often disappointed when I miss an opportunity or fail to be the kind of influence I had hoped to be, but I am unwilling to prepare properly by constantly seeking the counsel of the all-wise ruler. I can make a difference in the lives of those in the body of Christ, but I have to be prepared to do so.

The Holy Spirit is God Himself, living inside of me. All the wisdom, power, strength, love, mercy, and joy that is God, is dwelling inside of me. All the spiritual gifts that heaven has to offer are available through him…but the Spirit’s existence is often unnoticed and so those gifts are forfeited.  I tend to neglect his eternal presence in the mundane occurrences of life, leaving me tragically unprepared, or unaware, when a dire situation arises. It is our responsibility to memorize scripture that the Spirit can draw from when we need it most. It is our responsibility to call on the Spirit daily. God does not allow our laziness and lack of discipline to be rewarded…we cannot receive a prize for something we didn’t do. So, study and prepare, memorize and meditate so that you are prepared with wise, biblical advice to those around you who need it most.

And so, while reading the Bible, praying and seeking the Holy Spirit are all very effective in directing our personal spiritual growth, we cannot keep that progress to ourselves. For the sake of those you love, increase the amount of influence that God and His Word have in your life. For the sake of all believers, build your faith and store up scripture to use when others are weaker…for when one member is weak, we are all weak. If we seek only our own growth, where would the body be? If we become too focused on our own strength, the other members suffer.  Discipline yourself to read, study and pray…not just for yourself, but for the sake of the body. We all must be more spiritually prepared. There are lives…and souls…depending on it.